Backtrace Training Registration

The last stretch must stand the strain

I am a lineman for the county…

When Jimmy Webb wrote that line of the “Wichita Lineman” back in 1968, I don’t think he would have ever imagined that his song would not only go on to sell millions of records for Glen Campbell but be recorded by such notable singers as Johnny Cash, James Taylor, and Billy Joel. That song would be inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in March 2020. But what most people don’t know is that while Webb wrote that song specifically for Campbell – a ballad about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts – when he sent it over to Campbell it wasn’t finished. He didn’t have the last verse written, but the pressure to get something over to Campbell was immense. Weeks later, Webb needled Glen, “Well I guess Wichita Lineman didn’t make the cut.’ Glen surprisingly responded, ‘Oh yeah! We recorded that!’. Webb exclaimed that he didn’t think that song was finished. Glen responded, ‘Well it is now!”[1]

I can picture my childhood driving in my dad’s blue 1974 Grand Torino wagonmaster with the wood looking trim listening to the Wichita Lineman. Such a simple song about a guy who misses his girlfriend while working out on the lonely road. Yet, of late, after learning about the story behind the story of the creation of the Wichita Lineman, this song has now become sort of an intonation for me underscoring how emergence is underpinned by collaboration. Let me explain.

I hear you singing in the wire, I can hear you through the whine…

The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) has been at it for some time trying to perfect the way they conduct the practice of crime gun intelligence. In late 2013, the NJSP found itself, and me for that matter, in a difficult position. The Camden County Metro Police Department was clamoring for quicker turnarounds on NIBIN analysis related to their crime gun submissions. I was a new commander who among so many other priorities oversaw the Section for which NIBIN processing and analysis was performed. During this same time, then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had passed legislation requiring law enforcement officers to ensure that crime guns were traced and entered into NIBIN within a reasonable time frame, which meant hours, not months as the state was used to. This legislation codified the requirements outlined in a previous 2008 Attorney General Directive. Meeting the challenge, the NJSP, informed by the critical steps of NIBIN outlined by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), both backlogs while increasing performance, and soon became a national model for how a state agency could develop and implement a robust NIBIN program.When I was tagged to address the quicker turnarounds related to NIBIN, I was fortunate enough to rely on a team of people both inside and outside my organization, from within the law enforcement community and from those experts that knew the business.It took us about 10 months, but we fixed the fundamental aspects of NIBIN – collection and turnaround – and law enforcement agencies across the state immediately began to see the difference because of the advancement of the Garden State Ballistics Community of Interest, which brought together the other 6 NIBIN processing labs across the state to address “timely turnaround.” For the NJSP, their NIBIN turnaround times astonishingly went from 6 to 10 months to 24 to 48 hours.And I drive the main road – Searchin’ in the sun for another overload…

As a typical commander, I was on to other issues. I kept an eye on things but since the crisis issue of “timely turnaround” was addressed I focused my attention to other issues in my Branch. Looking back, it should have been no surprise to me that others would take up the mantle to increase the larger statewide capabilities related to crime gun intelligence. Those that deeply understood the processing of trace evidence, DNA, and obliterated serial numbers weighed in to further enhance the crime gun processing protocol to help generate timely information needed to speed up and advance ongoing investigations. At the same time this was occurring in our Special Investigations Section, the state’s fusion center, “The Rock”, was refining their analytical and crime gun intelligence production to better inform investigators, and the larger law enforcement community regarding the state’s shooting environment. These processes had begun in 2007, when the fusion center was responding to the request of the then Governor Jon Corzine to understand the shooting environment in Camden. Yet at that time, the ballisticians, forensic techs, analysts, and investigators were not coming together to share information, and experiences, to further ensure that each crime gun recovered could tell its story through NIBIN, eTrace, and local intelligence. What was emerging from the collective capabilities among the Special Investigations Section, the fusion center, and the Ballistics Community of Interest would not just tell individual crime gun stories, but would provide investigators and commanders across the state an understanding of how each of the antagonists in those stories were linked to together and responsible for the violent mayhem across the state.

I know I need a small vacation, But it don’t look like rain…

Now looking back 9 years later, I see things through a different prism. Like Jimmy Webb, I handed over an unfinished product, never to expect the incredible results that followed. There is still work to do. Did you know that the last stretch, the last mile of delivery in supply chain management is the most difficult? Those challenges usual center around efficiency and performance. The NJSP, like many other law enforcement agencies that followed the ATF’s Minimum Required Operating Standards for NIBIN are abound in investigative leads, yet they struggle with how to triage and prioritize those leads. They find themselves at interesting cross-roads as to how best to ensure that investigative follow-up, prosecution, and feedback loops are an integral part of this incredible statewide capability they have been advancing. This last stretch must withstand the strain.

And if it snows that stretch down south, Won’t ever stand the strain…

In October 2021, I was fortunate to have been invited back to deliver a presentation to the many members of New Jersey’s crime gun intelligence community. Robert Troyer, former United States Attorney from the District of Colorado, and myself co presented Precision Awareness and Prosecution. We leveraged much of the former research and practical knowledge of Pete Gagliardi, Carlos Canino, George Belsky, and James Sheehan on the fundamentals surrounding the building blocks of investigating gun crime, leadership, and interagency collaboration. Unlike so many other law enforcement agencies who have adopted NIBIN, the New Jersey law enforcement community was now expanding that emergence theory by including prosecutors into the equation. Troyer, through Ultra Forensics Technology, had recently published the NIBIN Tool Kit for Prosecutors. He covered much of the content in that toolkit to brief this New Jersey audience. More importantly, for these law agencies charged with tackling gun crime who were navigating the gauntlet of investigative follow-up and prosecution, Troyer’s guide gave them hope in their journey.

And I need you more than want you,For New Jersey, the last hurdle continues to include investigative follow up and feedback. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time they have tried to tackle this difficulty. In 2018, the NJSP hosted The New Jersey Statewide NIBIN Hit Triage Protocol Workshop in which 30 commanders, investigators, forensic personnel from the NJSP, ATF, and counties participated. The working group conducted practical exercises that involved reviewing NIBIN hits for the purpose of understanding what elements should be considered when triaging and prioritizing leads. The working group gained consensus around using an index as a foundation for triaging and prioritizing NIBIN leads.

And I want you for all time

Like all crime gun intelligence programs, any improved collection and analysis of NIBIN, etrace, and local intelligence will inevitably generate more investigative leads than ever before. This is of course good news, but it is also bad news since law enforcement agencies can quickly drown in their own ocean of leads. While the triaging index from that 2018 workshop seemed at the time to be a useful tool, without technology to underpin the effort, it quickly became unsustainable.

Today, the NJSP has again decided to tackle this last stretch of follow-up and feedback through a blending of technology and people. Their CAP5 (Crime Analysis Precision Policing & Precision Prosecution Program) initiative powered by the BackTraceapplication is emerging as a unique effort to quickly collate, aggregate, and filter disparate data sets to support strategic, operational, and tactical missions. These efforts are identifying high frequency violent offenders involved with gun crime and revealing additional associations that can provide context in support of NIBIN leads. By weighting and scoring leads, the NJSP program will begin to develop a mechanism for triaging and prioritizing the copiousness number of leads that have resulted from a robust statewide comprehensive collection and timely turnaround capability.

Hard to believe that all of this innovation started some 15 years ago and has spanned many people. Each person contributing their ideas, experience, or technology. Just like Jimmy Webb, no one was afraid to push a half-baked idea. There is a running joke at “The Rock” that essentially says that they (the fusion center) embrace innovation by simply “building the plane as they fly it.” Maybe the last mile will always be there for the NJSP as they advance their capabilities related to crime gun intelligence. Nonetheless, one thing though is certain, their collaborative efforts to tinker, revise, and renew their capabilities have created an environment where innovation and emergence flourishes.

Billy Joel once said that the Wichita Lineman is a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts. For the NJSP, the crime gun intelligence journey leading up to the last mile they are facing is about ordinary people thinking, implementing, and sharing their extraordinary thoughts over 15 years to shape and strengthen an important capability designed to bring justice to victims, resolution to their families, and peace to the communities. They too have been Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.

I am a lineman for the county, And I drive the main roadShare

Combating Crime Webinar

Ray Guidetti was featured on a Police1 webinar to discuss what it takes to combat gun related crime. The webinar, entitled “Accelerate Investigations by Bridging Data Gaps & Facilitating Interagency Collaboration” included Chris Bolton, former Deputy Chief of Field Operations of the Oakland, California, Police Department, former Detective First Grade Mike Cunningham of the New York City Police Department, and Ray Guidetti, former Deputy Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

Check out this short preview of the webinar

Collectively, these speakers tackle investigative challenges impacting law enforcement today; the core elements of combating gun related crime: teamwork, tactics, and technology; and how effective case management systems can bridge data gaps to help investigators solve crimes.

Here is a link to the full webinar

Taking a step back to lead the way forward

Approaching the riverbank, I could not help but think of how serene this area was. Yet, when I closed my eyes, I could easily imagine the scene unfolding around me. The smell of burning wood and black powder, the sounds of groaning men passing by and muzzle fire echoing in the distance, and the din of the marching columns and horses nearby completed the imagery in my mind. I felt the need to turn away from the river and face the house the Zabriskie’s built along the water’s edge. Today, this home is well kept, manicured, and freshly painted, but something was missing out front. Nonetheless, my imagination filled that void and placed the old fox back on that porch. I could see his stoic outline and his gaze looking intently past me to the timber bridge watching the commotion occurring just yards away. While it was some time ago, being here conjured up all the emotions one would expect when you are reminiscing about one of history’s greatest leaders.

Aschatking, as it was once called, is where the Hackensack River narrows significantly from points south that lead into to the Newark Bay. During the American Revolution, this area, New Bridge Landing, served as a strategic bridge crossing for the Hackensack River. It is where, on November 20, 1776, General George Washington led his troops in retreat from the surrounding British forces. In his own words, Washington described this day as one of luck that allowed him to gain the bridge before the British, and in the end served to save his men.

As a result, New Bridge Landing is referred to in history books as the bridge that saved a nation. Yet, from a leadership perspective it provides another lesson. Several accounts of the day describe Washington as standing steadfast on the riverbank as his garrison crossed the Hackensack ultimately retreating to Newark. Within earshot of musket fire, he sacrificed his own safety to demonstrate to his men that he stood with them regardless of the challenges they all faced.

How many times as a leader have you found yourself in retreat? While the circumstances were surely different than what Washington experienced, nonetheless the pressure to achieve the mission may have been the same. Did you make a decision that did not turn out well? Did you implement a policy or strategy that was not favorable among your team? Did you find yourself on the wrong side of circumstances outside your control? What did you do?

While you would never know it today, considering the New Jersey State Police NIBIN program has become a national model, several years back that was not the case.[1] Complaints were coming from police departments around the state that the ten-month turnaround time to process NIBIN “hits” was just not meeting expectation in terms of generating investigative leads. Unfamiliar circumstances placed me and my team in the awkward position to address the problem. Not knowing much about ballistics or NIBIN at the time, we did what most commanders would do to address a problem. We called a meeting, and then another, and then another. After eight months, we could not figure out why nothing was changing. While the folks responsible for making improvements reported some progress, we still had complaints coming in from on high regarding turnaround times. At the same time, we also learned something even worse – agencies were taking their NIBIN evidence to other labs for faster processing. We felt like we were in full retreat.

Not sure how or why it happened, but we found ourselves spending time in the Ballistics Unit to observe the operation firsthand. It is here where incredible things began to happen. We came to understand that when NIBIN was first introduced into the lab it was squarely focused on an evidentiary perspective. There was no national movement to leverage NIBIN like it is today on developing investigative leads. We learned so much to help us question how the operation could be made more efficient and effective in its focus on supporting the evidentiary process by providing additional resources, training, and personnel. At the same time, working together we identified opportunities where, without sacrificing the evidentiary process, the unit could also adopt a premonitory capability that could turn around the NIBIN leads much more rapidly to provide investigators with actionable intelligence. The men and women in the unit were exceptional and demonstrated that once they understood the vision for change, they could meet the challenge. After only a few months, they adopted the processes and leveraged available technologies to move from a 10-month turnaround time on NIBIN leads to 24 to 36 hours. More importantly, not only did the complaints from the consumers of their service go away, but the unit also developed cutting edge processes making them a leader in the field. Our lab was now a go-to location in our state, and, in many respects, across the country, for providing comprehensive crime gun intelligence in a timely manner.

While none of us claimed to be George Washington, what we did in this case to improve our NIBIN program in New Jersey was to model his form of leadership. We were present on the line for all to see. We took a first-hand account of the situation. We sought out information to understand the challenges surrounding the problem. We empowered our personnel to innovate and solve their own problems. This was all done by stepping back, visiting the rear, and showing we cared and were invested in their problems as well as the solutions.

Today, I still accompany folks to the Aschatking, often with Pat Schuber (a past guest on the RF Factor). Pat, a local historian, provides the historical context related to the area and what it means for leaders today to consider within their own commands. Whether it be local law enforcement commanders, international counter terrorism leaders visiting the United States, or even young Scouts on a weekend leadership outing they all seem to come away with the same lesson provided by the Old Fox: A leader can have tremendous value on those being led just by being present during challenging times.

[1] Note: NIBIN stands for the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network. It is a program that is sponsored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and leverages the individual NIBIN labs across the country within municipal, state, and federal agencies. NIBIN offers law enforcement investigators information related to the association of fired cartridge cases left behind at a crime scene to other crime scenes as well as crime guns recovered from criminal possessors on the street.

Big ideas bring big benefits when small groups think and act together

When we think of technical innovation, we often conjure up images of the rich and famous entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates and their paradigm shifting products and initiatives. These technologists were bold enough to advance big ideas that continue to have a big impact on the world. Their popularity and legacies grow by the day.

In my experience though, most bold ideas and innovations come from everyday folks. Their names may not be well known and some of us would hardly consider them hi-tech innovators.

Take for example, the story of Chief Mike Bradley, the former chief of the Long Beach Township Police Department, in New Jersey. He ignited a spark across the state to layer the various types of existing and disparate law enforcement data sets and leverage it to combat crime.

Long Beach Township is a shore community in Ocean County. During the summer, the town swells with thousands of vacationers and beach goers. In the colder months, the population dwindles, and the traffic light cycles are switched to continuous flash.

During his tenure, Chief Bradley discovered several public safety concerns that were unique to the ebb and tide of the tourists and the sea – they were “shore things.” One “shore thing” of particular concern, was the phenomenon of cross-jurisdictional criminals visiting the beach. It is a problem for Long Beach Township throughout the year.

In the winter, these serial offenders, particularly burglars, would take advantage of vacant summer homes to ply their trade. In the summer, these offenders would blend in – camouflaged by the crowds of vacationers. Chief Bradley knew that these circumstances would make it a challenge for his cops to identify the perpetrators. He knew there had to be a technological solution.

When we think of Jobs, Musk, and Gates and their respective innovations we think of teams of technologists huddled together daily collaborating over what their constituents need. But in law enforcement, there is often this wide gap between the technologists and what is truly needed in the field operationally.

Those able to bridge this gap often reap long lasting benefits that not only aid their own departments but the larger community in the long term. Here was the genius of Chief Bradley. Knowing a local technologist, he challenged him in 2013 to help solve his transient crime problem. Nearly a hundred years earlier, the highwaymen, as they were called, would rob unsuspecting victims on their weekend jaunts as they travelled outside the cities. Police then were limited to the technology of the day – flags, automobiles, and saddled horses – to combat the problem. That would not be the answer for today’s highway and byway criminals.

Chief Bradley knew that the data from the automated license plate readers coming onto his barrier island layered with other law enforcement data sets he had access to could somehow identify perpetrators of the crimes in his jurisdiction. The collaborative partnership between the operator in the field and the technologist would take close to two years to develop a prototype of what is now a core component across the state for identifying, arresting, and prosecuting serial offenders whose victims’ span jurisdictions.

Most importantly, with accurate data driven information police can target criminals with a high degree of precision.

So how did this all occur?

First, Chief Bradley did not accept the status quo as it related to investigating serial crimes occurring in his jurisdiction.

Second, he understood that value of technology as a force multiplier, and how aggregated disparate law enforcement data sets could yield a far greater awareness of criminal activity and its offenders.

Third, he knew that if he had the patience and spent enough time collaborating with a technologist to tease out and understand the problem, they could collectively develop an effective solution.

Fourth, the technologist was willing to listen to the needs of the Chief and not think he had a solution before a problem was identified.

And lastly, the two were willing to invest the time and energy into developing a capability that while not an overnight success would achieve great benefit in the long-term.

There are said to be three phases of innovation: insight, identifying the problem, and creating a solution. While this description is useful for understanding what underscores innovation, it does not do justice toward delineating what it takes in terms of time, collaboration, and the implementation challenges that will be faced along the way. More importantly, the timeline of the innovation will consist of the highs and lows related to the people, processes, and technologies involved. In other words, innovation is not for the weak at heart or the impatient, it takes time, perseverance., and relentless follow up.

Seven years later, Chief Bradley’s vision of leveraging law enforcement data sets to identify burglars victimizing his residents has been realized. However, his vision has now blossomed into something much larger: a crime fighting tool that provides commanders, investigators, and analysts with the necessary information needed to identify and combat patterned crime, gun violence, and those serial offenders committing these crimes.

Over the years, more and more believers in Bradley’s vision came together to contribute their insights and experiences into the project. Today, this endeavor has evolved into a much larger capacity that underpins the state’s precision policing capability, which overlays and leverages available law enforcement data to provide justice to victims, resolution to their families, and peace to impacted communities.

What can we learn from Chief Bradley? It is not enough to have a big idea; it is just as important to seek out a team to advance that idea and see it to fruition. We are grateful to Chief Bradley for showing us the way!

Three Ways that Every Leader Can Live a Thousand Lives

Over the years I have had the unique opportunity to speak to a variety of audiences in many different areas related to public safety, intelligence, and command leadership principles. Some of my favorite experiences were speaking in front of newly promoted members of police organizations that were set on making a difference in lives of the men and women that they would be leading on the street. What always comes to mind when I reminisce on these times was working with the Newark, New Jersey Police Department in their new promotee training program. I can still see the eagerness in many of their faces knowing that they were about to embark into an area that would leave an indelible mark on those they were sworn to lead. With that as a backdrop, regardless of the time I spoke with the group and the content covered, I would always prioritize the top three things they needed to be doing starting today to become a better leader of people.

Read, read, and read!

Read to gain experience from the experience of others

I have often remarked about NYPD Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple and how his insights revolutionized the way crime can be fought. While I have met many who have worked with or were mentored by Maple, unfortunately he passed well before I had the opportunity to meet him personally. Yet not being in his presence never limited my exposure to him or his insights. Reading The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business provided me a master’s level education into understanding crime as a business, how to enact measures both proactively and reactively to address crime, and the value of relentless follow-up to ensure that tactics and strategies implemented were functioning as designed. While technology has come a long way since Maple published his book in 2000, aspiring leaders can learn a great deal about leveraging people, processes, and available technology to achieve groundbreaking achievements. Sadly, many of us will never have the opportunity to experience Jack Maple in the flesh, but we can gain immensely from reading about his insights and how he implemented them to make New York City a safer place at the time.

Read to travel to another time and place

I have been to Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, where the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Here the Spartans were eager to take on a suicide mission necessary for holding back the pass of invading Persian army that stood a million strong. Thanks to Steven Pressfield, in the Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, I was transported to another universe. It was here I learned about the ideals of duty, patriotism, and honor. Escaping to this other world, I joined millions of readers that came before me and those after me to fully appreciate the difference between being a king as opposed to a leader. A leader sacrifices with his people, earns loyalty through sacrifice not intimidation or reward, and serves the led! Pressfield’s world, some say immortalized in the movie 300, transported me to a fictional superstitious land where I could witness first-hand the honor, duty, and bravery of the Spartans. This experience has served me well in understanding the mantle of leadership and its impact on inspiring others to do things for the greater good of society or an organization.

Read to understand more about leaders you can never meet

When I think of leadership and those that have created a legacy worth emulating, I will always turn to Abraham Lincoln. His memory will be forever etched in my own as someone – while seemingly immortal – who is the greatest leader of our time. Lincoln was a lifelong learner, who was open-minded with a tremendous sense of empathy that offered him the skills needed to persuade and lead teams even if they were against him. The 750-page tome, by Doris Kearns, entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, introduced me to a man whose character was unmatched. He had the incredible ability to bring disgruntled opponents together, build a diverse cabinet, and then marshal their skills and talents to preserve the Union. Meeting Lincoln in this way offered me an incredible vantage point into his long and tenacious struggle with a hostile Congress, incompetent generals, and rivals, some who turned into close friends. Team of Rivals was such a compelling read for me of this great man. So much so, that when he was assassinated in the book, I could feel the emotional blow as if it was someone I had known personally for some time. While I could never be Lincoln, my interaction with him provided me with the standards I will always aspire to. I am better for it but could have never met this man without the power of reading.

George R.R. Martin, an American novelist and screen writer, once wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” Harry Truman once said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Both Martin and Truman’s words offer sound advice today for those aspiring leaders seeking to prepare themselves for tomorrow. Reading challenges your own status quo. Reading inspires you to innovate. Reading increases your knowledge of history. Reading strengthens your worldview and convictions. Reading introduces you to new ideas and helps you solve problems.

Message to aspiring leaders: Experience a thousand lives…read, read, read!!!

The Enemy of Good is Perfect: Except when it comes to data and precision policing

I am sure he could feel the adrenaline still surging through his body as he finished his run. Once in his car, he probably looked at himself in the rear-view mirror focusing squarely on the red hooded sweatshirt he was wearing that was now soaking up his sweat. His probable glance down at the passenger seat where he had tossed the fruits of his labor – the stolen credit cards he had just robbed – reminded him of what he just did. Perhaps this was added to his repeated pensive scans of the rearview mirror, which telegraphed what he was thinking. Did anybody see me – Could they identify me – Are there cops on my tail?

Like so many criminals, his false sense of bravado would have kicked in – and as he calmed himself, his thoughts shifted to turning plastic into cash.

What Terrence Rhue of Plainfield, New Jersey, did not know, was that following his heinous act of allegedly breaking into the home of a Westfield woman, sexually assaulting her at knifepoint after her early morning walk – then stealing her credit cards, was that within two days he would be in custody thanks to the collective efforts of local, county, and state investigators who were able to leverage technology assets to identify him.

While Rhue wore a blue surgical mask and medical gloves to hide his identity, what he could not conceal was his past criminal history, and those bits of digitalized data identifiers that captured his movements and documented his actions would be central to his identification. There were the various home surveillance videos from the neighbors’ doorbells and porch mounted cameras, the strategically placed license plate reader technology and registration records that connected him to the car he used which he borrowed from his father.

For Rhue, the coup de grace would be the search warrant executed at his house that turned up his red sweat-stained hoodie and the credit cards he had stolen. Innocent till proven guilty, he currently faces first-degree aggravated sexual assault, first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, and weapons offenses.[1]

The technology used to identify Rhue is not something new to law enforcement. In fact, surveillance cameras and license plate readers have been around for some time and are proven measures for placing perpetrators at the scene of the crime, linking criminals to those crimes, and most importantly providing investigative leads. Why? Because the data that these technologies provide to law enforcement is indispensable for narrowing criminal suspects from the public at large – the right suspects. When these technologies are aggregated with other law enforcement data sets, they enable investigators to become much more precise in who they are targeting for crimes.

But what happens if law enforcement takes data for granted?

Human slippage is no different than Murphy’s Law in that it is always lurking in the shadows and when not accounted for can spoil your day. Take for instance a few years back when we were looking for suspects involved in a robbery in Atlantic City and we could not figure out why we were unable to pick up on technical surveillance data leads on suspects leaving the city. To our chagrin we found out that the person responsible for checking on the portable data readers had not done so after a Nor’Easter had blown through.

Not sure who was more shocked, us or him when the reader was found overturned in the marsh and had been there for approximately two weeks. From a data collection perspective, it was no different when we found that our remote readers that were powered by solar were left powerless when the effect of less sun and shorter days was worsened by snow- and ice-covered sensors – rendering the technology temporarily useless.

Then there is plain old human error. Maybe a spelling mistake on a ticket or using the wrong code on a report. When data is critical – every bit and piece counts. Whether it is for identifying suspects, steering operations, or guiding strategic initiatives like precision policing, data is crucial!

In a recent blog post I discussed the two core principles of precision policing. The first being crime-and-disorder enforcement and the second being community policing. Both of these principles equally require the collection, analysis, and evaluation of data sets that can empower law enforcement agencies to focus their collective efforts in order to ensure the right balance of enforcement and neighborhood policing that can and should take place.

In the past, if the systems were down or even non-existent, or if the data had errors, the traditional policing methods – reactive by nature – really did not suffer all that much or did it. Maybe, people only expected that which could be done at the time – less solutions available – less expectations. However, in this new era of precision policing data is key.

In 2017, The Economist published an article entitled, The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. The article went on to describe that 97% of all businesses utilize data to power business opportunities. With that as a backdrop, it is no wonder that data can be a law enforcement organization’s most valuable asset when that data can be trusted. When law enforcement agencies work with incomplete or untrustworthy data for any reason the outcomes can result in incorrect insights, skewed analysis, or faulty recommendations. With the underpinning of precision policing being robust data, it is critical that sustainable measures are always in place to ensure that trustworthy data can be accessed upon demand.

Yet, the reality is that in most law enforcement organizations, to include fusion centers and real time crime centers, the folks that manage the data are buried deep within the organization’s chain of command, and hardly gain face time with leadership unless there is a crisis moment. The mindset that “IT” folks are only there to ensure that applications and systems are running will have to extend into the strategic realm. This will ensure that data sets like the ones used to identify Terrence Rhue are constantly being pursued and integrated into law enforcement operations. In 2022 and beyond, this requires police executives to have a fundamental understanding of the value of data as it relates to carrying out their individual policing missions whether at the tactical, operational, or strategic levels.

One area that police leaders can begin with to better understand data is to acknowledge the two terms that best describe the condition of data: data quality and data integrity. While these two terms have been often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions that must be recognized. Data quality is a subset of data integrity and is assessed against the five elements below:

Is the data complete?

Is the data unique?

Is the data valid?

Is the data timely?

Is the data consistent?

Quality data must meet all of the above criteria. If it does not, then data-driven initiatives, like precision policing will suffer. For example, if an agency has a list of known offenders that is accurate and valid, but there is no supporting data that can provide context about those criminals, the types of crimes they commit, and the association to a particular jurisdiction than the list of these offenders quickly loses its value.

Data integrity on the other hand refers to whether data is complete, accurate, consistent, and has context. It is data integrity that makes data useful to owners. While data quality is a component of data integrity it is not the only pillar. The four main pillars of data integrity are:

a) Data integration – data must be seamlessly integrated regardless of its original source in order to provide visibility

b) Data quality – data must be complete, unique, valid, timely, and consistent

c) Location intelligence – data can be much more actionable when a geocoding provides location insight and analytics

d) Data enrichment – when data can be enriched by outside sources it can provide greater context to users and more robust analyses

For law enforcement, data can be leveraged as a tactical, operational, or a strategic asset. In the case of Terrence Rhue above it was the aggregation of disparate data quality sets that led to his identification and arrest. Yet, strategic data-driven initiatives such as precision policing will have to move past just data quality, and on to measures that increase data integrity measures that can drive better planning, decisions, and ultimate outcomes.

This begins with law enforcement leaders and practitioners understanding that perfect data will enable and enhance good public safety.

Of course, at the end of the day, even with the most perfect of data sets, we must still depend upon the dedicated men and women of law enforcement to turn that data into the proper actions required to protect and serve the public.

[1] Note: The details described in the case above came from article entitled, Surveillance footage led to arrest of man accused in Westfield home invasion sex assault, cops say, accessed from, on February 3, 2022.

The Fourth Dimension: Seeing the unknown knowns

Do you remember when you found out that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father? How about when you discovered Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, was actually dead; or in the Fight Club when Tyler Durden was actually the alter ego of the unnamed protagonist played by Ed Norton?

Movie plot twists like these that stand out today in your memory are actually the result of a literary device called anagnorisis. Anagnorisis is commonly utilized by writers and filmmakers the world over. Yet, it was Aristotle who first discussed anagnorisis in his work Poetics. He defined anagnorisis as recognition or “a change from ignorance to knowledge.” Whether in great movie, in our careers, or in our personal lives we have all experienced anagnorisis in some form or another.

In my own public safety career, I have had many flashes of anagnorisis. As a young trooper it took the tragic line of duty death of a friend and classmate to realize that I too was mortal, and my mortality would hinge on both luck and skill, but I could not ever take it for granted.

Additionally, it was the events of September 11, 2001, and my involvement in investigative and preventive initiatives that followed which awakened me – via a front row seat to the many who were advancing and attempting to advance such initiatives – to the notion that leadership is much more than rank or popularity, it is about execution and follow-up.

Moreover, it was the foundational elements of crime gun intelligence, shared with me by Pete Gagliardi, my friend and mentor, that allowed me to recognize that regardless of the project or initiative, it will always be the equal blend of “people, processes, and technology” that will enable initiatives to succeed. Shortcutting any of those elements will likely doom a project’s success and importantly – its sustainability.

Despite thinking that I had seen it all as it related to public safety, my latest anagnorisis moment was born from my post retirement engagement with technology development and application. I now fully recognize the tremendous value that the amalgam of assorted law enforcement data sets – which by themselves may yield marginal value – can have in providing law enforcement officers valuable investigative leads that otherwise would go unnoticed.

For many today, their law enforcement careers were marked by September 11th. That watershed moment in our history jettisoned information-sharing and intelligence into the public safety arena. While the police had used intelligence for years to combat organized crime and narcotics, in the wake of that fateful day counter terrorism, data and information-sharing, and intelligence and analysis found their way into so many new areas of public safety in an effort to prevent, detect, and engage the myriad of threats facing the homeland and hometowns. For me, it was no different landing first in the Joint Terrorism Task Force and then later within my state’s fusion center.

During this time, I remember distinctly former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield’s quote: “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” While his words were aimed at the intelligence reports related to weapons of mass destruction, they reverberated across many of the nation’s fusion centers. We all thought then that by just acquiring knowledge about our jurisdictions it would help us better understand the threats we faced and then develop strategies to mitigate those threats.

With Rumsfield’s passing last year, Dr. Herb Lin, of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, revisited Rumsfield’s famous commentary (you can read his article here). What struck me about Lin’s piece is how he focused attention towards Rumsfield’s omission of what he considered to be the fourth dimension, the “unknown knowns.” He further illuminated that an “unknown known” is something that is known in some sense but may be unknown at the critical time it is needed. Lin further goes on to state that “unknown knowns” are not a matter of factual or analytical discovery, but instead born from human failings. Enter technology and the source of my anagnorisis!

When I first worked organized crime, I was naïve to think that just because someone was a “made member” they could be arrested and charged with a crime. It did not take long to figure out that fighting organized and patterned crimes at the most fundamental level came down to understanding the relationship between “people, places, and things.” For example, while we may know who our serial shooters are in a given jurisdiction based on intelligence and witness statements, in order for us to narrow the investigative probe and develop evidence to prosecute we must have objective fact-based information upon which we can build a case. In terms of people, places and things, when we can place a serial shooter at a given location within a vehicle or with a specific crime gun, we are off to the races in terms of an investigation.

Every day, there are countless law enforcement transactions involving people, places, and things that take place across a given jurisdiction and neighboring locales. It would be impossible for any investigator, or for that matter any team of investigators, to know or even remember the details of these transactions. I am uncomfortable calling that a human failure, but it certainly speaks to the limited capacity of humans as it relates to processing big data.

However, today technologies exist, like BackTrace, that can instantaneously “identify, remember and recall” not only each transaction, but also the patterns and associations among them. For example, gunshot acoustic detection sensors can pinpoint a shooting that was not reported, license plate recognition systems can tell us the vehicles in the vicinity of that shooting, and past shooting event information and data analysis derived from both localized and national systems like ATF’s NIBIN and eTrace can inform us about the who, what, and why of past shootings that may be related to this current shooting. Technology that mashes and illustratively maps those data sets together, as well as the many others we have access to such as DNA, fingerprints, and commercial and home security video, bring us into the fourth dimension: being able to remember the “unknown knowns.”

My latest anagnorisis stems from the power of data. I have been awakened to how leveraging and combining common and disparate data sets within public safety can yield incredible leads needed to identify those problem people, places, and things that are involved with patterned and violent crime. Without technology, it would be impossible to see these associations and evidence-based leads.

Precision policing requires agencies to be able to identify and target those individual offenders that threaten the well-being of communities. Everyday law enforcement data exists to identify and associate offenders with crimes; however, it is technology that will offer investigators opportunities to unlock and leverage the power of this data.

Welcome to the fourth dimension!

Do YOU know where your unknown knowns are tonight?

The RF Factor!

“In the street, follow-up is tracking the last lead down the last dark alley until the last crook is locked away. From an upper floor at headquarters, the idea of follow-up only begins with the obligation to ensure that the field commanders are making the cops track the last lead down the last dark alley until the last crook is locked away.” – Jack Maple[1]

My friend Pete and I are often asked why we are so fixated on the concept of the RF Factor. Here it is in a nutshell. It was partly born from honoring the legacy and genius of Jack Maple, considered one of the foremost leaders in crime-control strategies. It is also grounded in our own compelling interest to better understand what makes some public safety initiatives succeed while others stagnate or fail. We have both been involved in numerous projects and initiatives throughout our own careers some were successes and others seemed to be doomed for failure shortly after they were launched even though “mission accomplished” was announced. With that said, from our collective vantage point, it is the RF Factor, or “relentless follow up”, that seems to be the lynch pin for the successful programs that we have observed both in our former law enforcement careers as well as our current consulting experiences. When initiatives have change agents constantly looking in their rear-view mirrors to assess what is working and what is not, and if those projects are doing what they said they set out to do, those initiatives seem to succeed.

Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple of the NYPD, under Commissioner Bill Bratton, was credited for designing the city’s anti-crime strategy that to this day remains historic in nature. He was a steadfast believer in relentless follow-up and assessment, and as such saw it as a critical element of the CompStat model. He believed that that even the most effective systems will eventually fail if they’re not relentlessly assessed and corrected to prevent the inevitable human slippage. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in a command room at the NYPD named after Maple. Commissioner Bill Bratton rededicated the CompStat meeting room in honor of Maple, the man who invented statistic-based crime-fighting assessment tools that underscored the massive crime drops in the city in the 1990’s. For the NYSP, it was the CompStat meeting room that was the place where relentless follow-up was formally conducted.

While I never met Jack, I have been inspired by his work ever since reading ,Crime Fighter. Pete, on the other hand, was introduced to him, in a “restaurant” on West 57th, in the late 90’s. They commiserated over their shared views on developing effective and sustainable law enforcement initiatives, while “tipping a few.” Interestingly enough, they never did order dinner. Wow, what a great guest he we would have been on our podcast, particularly now as we seem to be struggling as a nation with violent crime control strategies.

We have seen the “RF Factor” comes in different shape and sizes. It may not be a formalized meeting where commanders are seated around the table to assess current crime control strategies. Instead, it may be more like a morning call, a daily huddle, or “leadership by walking around” and talking to your project team. Understanding the RF Factor seeks to help us all better understand how effective programs are accomplished and most importantly sustained. By conducting postmortem assessments of programs, initiatives, and innovations to better learn about the good, the bad and the ugly – we can better understand why some great programs seem to endure and yet others with similar great potential seem to fade away into the sunset. So next time you are looking at a successful project, or for that matter, an unsuccessful one, focus on the people, places, and technology involved against the backdrop of the RF Factor.

[1] Maple, Jack; Mitchell, Chris. The Crime Fighter: Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business . Crown/Archetype

If you are looking for Mycroft look no further than fusion centers

Regardless of your age, the name Sherlock Holmes immediately conjures up images of an old-world detective complete with hat and pipe, and a mastery of observation, deduction, forensic science, and logical reasoning. While this fictional character first appeared in print in 1887, his popularity quickly spread throughout the world. Today, there are thousands upon thousands of stage adaptions, films, television productions and publications about this arguably best-known detective. In fact, the Guinness World Records lists Sherlock Holmes as the most portrayed character in history. But did you know that Mycroft Holmes actually surpassed the deduction abilities and knowledge of his younger brother Sherlock?

In the Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this about Mycroft:

“Well, his position is unique. He has made it for himself. There has never been anything like it before, nor will be again. He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used for this particular business. The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.”

Fusion Centers

In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, several states began to stand up early versions of fusion centers in an effort to share information related to counterterrorism efforts. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2005, recognizing the value in collaboration among federal, state, and local public safety officials, the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices ranked the development of a state intelligence fusion center as its second-highest priority for that year. It was the NGA’s stance that served as the catalyst for the implementation and development of fusion centers by driving the publication of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative’s Fusion Center Guidelines: Developing and Sharing Information and Intelligence in a New Era.

Fusion centers have evolved exponentially since their early days when their numbers were few and their mission was narrow. Today, they currently hover around 80 centers across the United States, Guam, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The collective mission of the national fusion center network, as well as the mission sets of individual centers – at the state and major urban areas – are as diverse as one would expect when truly assessing the myriad of threats that face hometowns daily. While they continue to maintain an unblinking eye on the terror threat picture, they have developed capacities to address violent crime, natural disasters, special event planning, fentanyl poisonings, and pandemic flu to name a few. As Mike Sena, the President of the National Fusion Center Association, recently told me, “when it comes to fusion centers, there was no road map but off we went building relationships along the way.” Those relationships eventually translated into greater intelligence and analytical capacities and enhanced information-sharing platforms that law enforcement, counter terrorism, and public safety professionals rely upon today to advance their missions.

The Mycroft Effect and Fusion

So, what does a fictional old-world character and fusion centers have in common and what do they mean for advancing public safety today? Sir Doyle described Mycroft as a “central exchange,” a “clearing house,” and “omniscient.” Those are the same qualities that in my own mind’s eye I use to visualize fusion centers. Sir Doyle also explained that Mycroft was first used as a short-cut, a convenience, and then made himself essential. He further added, “in that great brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in an instant.” While Mycroft may have been imagined, the makings of fusion centers – that share the same qualities of this great analyst – are real and critically important to the safety and security of America.

This past September marked 20 years since that fateful day when four planes converted into guided missiles by international terrorists slammed into New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania snuffing out the lives of nearly 3,000 souls. There is always concern that the further we move away from that fateful day the easier may be to forget the importance of information-sharing, collaboration, and readiness prevention. Yet, while there may be sound reasons for that concern, there is also good reason to be hopeful. As we look across the fusion center network and see hundreds of men and women who every day in unison embody the spirit of Mycroft to become the clearing houses for information needed to detect terror, fight violent crime, and assess the undulating threat environment we give pause.


If Sir Doyle was alive today, he would marvel at how something that started as an outgrowth to fill a need for information-sharing in the months after the terrorist attacks has evolved into a critical homeland security and crime control component for state and local environments. He would recognize how fusion really is the sum of dedicated people, policy driven processes, and layered technologies. He may even have written,

Well, their position is certainly unique. Those that staff fusion centers made it for themselves. There has never been anything like it before, and they hope to sustain it into the future. Their budgets are the tidiest and their analytical capacities most orderly, with the greatest capacity for collecting, analyzing and sharing information across governmental entities. The same great powers which many have turned to for the detection of terrorism and crime are now used to address the myriad of threats that face America. Information and intelligence available through the law enforcement and homelands security community are passed to the fusion centers, and as a central exchange, a clearinghouse, they have become specialists in omniscience which is vital to the safety and security of the United States.

Fusion centers continue to be an integral component to keeping America safe. Support for them translates into greater capabilities vitally needed to advance public safety.

A Shared Purpose Wins Every Time!

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

When he approached the lectern, my eyes were squarely focused on those detectives long in the tooth. What was this former United States Attorney going to tell these grizzled gumshoes about investigating gun violence? They have seen it all, right! They experience the daily impact of “ping-pong” murders where today’s victims become tomorrow’s shooters thanks to the advances in trauma technology. The names of the serial shooters and their victims in their jurisdictions are as familiar as street signs to them. I steadied myself and focused on a mental reminder: this guy is good! But then he advanced his first slide. It depicted an autocrat lecturing his audience with the message, “We’re not doing anything because we don’t want to, and you can’t make us.” Oh, no, I thought to myself what have we done?!”

Rewind to a few weeks earlier, when the FBI released statistics concerning violent crime. They reported a 30% increase in murders for 2020, and how it was the deadliest gun violence year in decades. To make matters worse, those same patterns of violence have continued throughout this year in 2021, surely shaping it up to be a far worse year than the last. Bob Troyer, the former United States Attorney of the District of Colorado, and I were amid planning discussions aimed at presenting a New Jersey workshop for prosecutors, detectives, and commanders. Bob had recently developed the NIBIN Toolkit for Prosecutors[1], and I had been back in the saddle speaking about building crime gun intelligence capacities. With New Jersey telegraphing a history making effort that would harness the power of prosecutors in defeating gun crime, it only seemed right that the two of us should team up and present shoulder-to-shoulder of what we knew about precision awareness and precision prosecution concerning gun crime.

Despite what it appeared, like others in the audience, I had walked myself into this adroit Prosecutor’s trap. His self-deprecating humor was his tactful reminder that the challenging of the status quo for the sake of continuous improvement requires that our egos be left out in the parking lot. But most importantly, it cast a spotlight on the importance of building and leveraging relationships among the disparate communities of interest needed to advance successful gun violence prevention and suppression programs. Troyer worked us like he would work a jury by boiling issues down to the most basic concepts, so we could better understand, and later apply them.

His ruse helped tease out that having a robust capability to identify and prosecute gun violence requires the informal and formal partnerships among diverse entities within the law enforcement community. In other words, patrol officers, detectives, analysts, ballistic and forensic technicians, commanders, and prosecutors must all partner. They must think and act together to share information and insight. More specifically, these stakeholder entities must coalesce around a shared purpose, shape that shared purpose via policy, and then develop protocols to implement and adhere to those policies to realize the overall shared vision.

We cheerfully label these disparate entities as basic “food groups” because like understanding the relationship of good nutrition to our overall health, we need a reference point to better understand what contributes to a precision awareness and prosecution capability in the pursuit of justice for all. It is the diversity of the stakeholders that contributes to the overall strength of this capability, yet that same diversity of mission sets can also represent a hurdle to most.

The reason these independent “food groups” need to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate becomes even more apparent when one is asked to think of the amount of time a detective or forensic examiner gets to speak with prosecutor. The answer is hardly ever. While it is critically important that each of these entities performs a specialized function, the nature of law enforcement does not often allow these individual disciplines to communicate day-to-day and develop critical information sharing relationships.

Building a robust crime gun intelligence capability requires an “all in” participation from police commanders and investigators, while also requiring the technical skills and equipment of forensic laboratory personnel, and the legal acumen of state and Federal prosecutors. These stakeholder groups must work together to achieve success.

When the French Aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the quote that opened this post in his book “The Little Prince” it inspired many to take up their vocations. Moreover, the quote has been used for years to inspire teamwork among diverse entities by focusing them on a shared vision. Having a shared purpose can also serve as the end state for stakeholders charged with reducing gun violence regardless of their disciplines.

Notwithstanding, we must also add the public we serve to the list of basic “food groups”. Their interest in gun violence may be the most intimate because of the impact it has on victims, families and communities. Therefore, a shared purpose allows – no requires – the public to be an active contributor to the diverse capabilities needed to combat gun crime.

Seeking justice for victims, resolution for their families, and peace for the communities impacted by gun violence can align and harness the energies and capabilities of the investigators in the street, the technicians in the lab, and the prosecutors in the courtroom, all while carrying out what the public expects from law enforcement when addressing gun violence. When Bob Troyer presents on strategies needed to combat the blight of gun violence, he does so by recognizing that there is an unintended consequence of the specialization that underpins law enforcement community capabilities aimed at gun violence. He understands that specialization can often result in silos that prevent communication, coordination, and collaboration. He accepts that advancing robust crime gun intelligence strategies requires many “handoffs and handshakes” among partners and the public who must have trust in one another to leverage each other’s capabilities.

Success will require that we all think and act together so that armed and violent criminals cannot operate with impunity – and as we do – leave our egos and preconceptions parked outside.

[1] The First Edition of the NIBIN Toolkit for Prosecutors, authored by Bob Troyer, Esquire, was published in June 2021 by Ultra Electronic Forensic Technology Inc.